By Ross Forman
If only the Money Tree had sprouted earlier in the year, or the ATM somehow spit out a bunch of $100 bills.
After all, the National Sports Collectors Convention is an amazing spectacle of sports memorabilia for the eyes – and, sadly, something the wallet often can’t comprehend.
This year’s National was held Aug. 1-5 at the Baltimore Convention Center, the second time ever that this yearly sporting spectacle has been held steps away from Camden Yards, home of the Orioles (the first being in 2010).
Mike Tyson smiled for the masses. Cal Ripken Jr., posed for hundreds of photos. Gordie Howe joked with fans. Rickey Henderson was quick to move when given the chance to steal a photo alongside boxing great Roy Jones Jr.
And that was just some of the action in the Autograph Pavilion, run by Houston-based Tristar Productions Inc.
The show floor, meanwhile, was everything sports – signed, unsigned, Mint condition, dog-eared, new, old, rare and common. You name it, the National is everything collectible. Here are some of the highlights I was able to witness:
- An 11-by-14-inch autographed photo of singer Carrie Underwood, authenticated by PSA/DNA, carried a $229 price tag, down from $279. A similar autographed photo of Taylor Swift was only $199, down from $249. Just curious if Roger’s Collectibles sold either.
- One of my favorite dealer quotes all week was: “I’m here to help . . . I’m actually here to sell.”
- Under the tag, “Best Deal in the Building,” you could have purchased a replica Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals jersey from the 2011 Winter Classic. I also was impressed with the “Pistol” (Pete Maravich) basketball jersey.
- There was a cool framed piece of Johnny Unitas. The retail price, according to the seller’s sign, was $400. But the asking price was only $200.
- I saw black-and-orange shirts for Mr. Boh, each for $20. The dealer didn’t know anything about Mr. Boh, so enter Google. According to Wikipedia: “National Bohemian Beer is an American beer originally brewed in Baltimore, but now owned by the Pabst Brewing Co. … The company’s mascot, the one-eyed, handlebar-mustachioed Mr. Boh, has been a recognizable icon since his introduction in 1936.”
- A 16-by-20-inch autographed photo of a toothless Bob Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers carried a $35 price tag.
- An autographed photo of Franco Harris and Joe Paterno (PSA/DNA) was listed at $650.
- Baseball hats for the NYPD were only $5.
- I was intrigued by the red Quebec Ramparts hockey jersey.
- Saw a Rogers Hornsby autograph for $1,500.
- There were Baseball Magazine editions from the 1920s for $40 each, and the same publication from the 1950s were $20.
- For a mere $10, you could have claimed a box of Soccer Shots cards from 1991 – and the series included special Pelé card randomly-inserted inside the box.
- Here are the price tags for select autographed photos that I spotted: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper ($40), Bill Goldberg ($45), Mark Spitz ($65), Marv Levy ($50) and Jake “The Snake” Roberts ($40).
- Two of a kind: Adam Sandler autographed 8-by-10 (PSA/DNA) listed for $40, while Adam West autographed 8-by-10 (PSA/DNA) was $50.
- Cool item: The Pro Quotes, an 8-by-10 framed photo of an athlete with a famous quote of his. Those featured include Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig, Walter Payton and others.
- There was a dealer who sold strictly soccer jerseys. Eye-catching, yes, but I wonder if he sold many. I have my doubts.
- There was a signed 16-by-20 photo of Hall of Famer Curly Neal for $40.
- I liked the Wilt Chamberlain Philly jersey from Mitchell & Ness, with the UDA COA. I didn’t like the $4,000 price tag.
- There was a dealer in aisle 1700 who was selling multiple varieties of the famed Billy Ripken card. Yeah, that one …
- All-Star Sportscards offered a Sports Illustrated poster of Mickey Mantle, framed, for only $1,000.
- A 1981 New Orleans Saints media guide, with Bum Phillips on the cover, was only $3.
- A seat from Raymond James Stadium, billed at the National as “rare” was $799.
- There was a Sandy Koufax-signed 8-by-10 photo (JSA) for $175.
- Wish I had purchased the Stan Bahnsen baby blue White Sox jersey from 1972.
- The framed basketball greats piece was just that, great. Featuring photos and autographs from all the icons, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Kevin McHale and so many others. The piece was numbered 27/100. Glad I didn’t see, or hear, the other number – the price.
- There was a large carton, filled with unopened packs of cards. The deal was four-for-$1. Granted, it was packs of Bingo, Rocketeer, Desert Storm and other vintage non-sport releases.
- A Mark Cuban-autographed Dallas Mavericks jersey was listed at $750.
- Who wouldn’t want a complete set of billiards balls, each signed by Willie Mosconi, for $495?
- There was a dealer in the 300 aisle selling autographed 16-by-20 photos of Duke Snider for $40, and 8-by-10s of Gary Carter for $25.
- Enjoyed watching Jeff Rosenberg of Tristar strut around with pride after purchasing a
Babe Ruth-signed baseball. But not just any Ruth ball. Rosenberg set a world record by paying nearly $400,000 for the finest-known Ruth-autographed baseball in existence. The clean, white William Harridge official American League baseball is the only PSA-graded 9.5 Ruth autographed baseball. “This is the Mona Lisa of autographed baseballs, and it is an honor to now own it,” Rosenberg said. This Ruth autographed baseball was given to the Hollywood publicist who worked on The Babe Ruth Story by the slugger’s widow shortly after his death and was kept undisturbed for decades prior to the auction at The National.
- “We are hosting more than 90 athletes in Baltimore for the National, including Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Tyson, Emmitt Smith and many more greats of the sports world. But there is only one Babe Ruth, and he is the ultimate sports icon,” Rosenberg said. When asked what his plans are for the ball, Rosenberg replied, “It would be a great Grand Treasure for our Hidden Treasures product line, or even a tremendous item to display in our retail store (Tristar Sports Memorabilia at the Miracle Mile Shops in Las Vegas), but for now, we are just going to enjoy the thrill of owning the Mona Lisa of autographed baseballs.”
- Gary Payton was seen talking at length in the Tristar backstage area with Lou Brock.
- Hockey fans would have spotted the other Howe at the National. Yes, that was Gordie’s son, Mark, with him in Baltimore.
- The list of nice-guy signers in Baltimore was as large as any I remember in recent years. You were guaranteed to get a smile, probably a handshake and no doubt some friendly banter from Juan Marichal, Lou Brock, Fergie Jenkins, Bruce Sutter, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Gordie Howe, among others.
- Kevin Nash told Tristar officials that he really wanted an autograph from one National
guest in particular, one whose autograph he didn’t have. Nash’s extensive autograph collection already included several National guests, such as Reggie Jackson, Barry Sanders and others. The signature Nash really wanted was from Gale Sayers. A toast of the glass (filled with some Cakebread Cellars wine) to Tristar’s Mandy Fuerst for fulfilling Nash’s request. Nash signed autographs Saturday and Sunday at the show and, after signing Sunday, he went to a gym about 20 minutes away from the venue. He returned to the convention center at about 7 p.m., carrying ice-cold “milk” for the Tristar crew that he had personally bought.
- Several long-time National attendees, both dealers and collectors, said that the show should be cut back to a four-day event, Thursday through Sunday.
- I also heard many National veterans kick around the concept of keeping the show open later, possibly even as late at 10 p.m., on Thursday and Friday.
- Remember the days when there were press conferences from the card makers at the National? I do!
- Of all the card company redemptions at this year’s National, I’d give the top honors to Panini. Awesome items, period!
- Fergie Jenkins was one of many autograph guests who wanted – and got – a photo with boxing great Mike Tyson. Same for Gaylord Perry.
- Dave Concepcion, meanwhile, was more interested in getting his photo taken with his former Cincinnati Reds’ mates, including Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Cesar Geronimo.
- The Saturday portion of the show truly felt like a National of years past – crowds, crowds, crowds.
- I am excited for the National to return to Chicago in 2013. Any chance for a West Coast return ever? Or, dare I suggest, Philadelphia or Boston?
The 2012 National was a good one. Not great, just good. Not average, better than average. The hobby is still fun, always has been and always will be. I just wish I had a few more bucks – or, in reality – a lot more bucks to truly appreciate the sports collectibles industry.
My birthday was a few days after the National ended, and I was thrilled to receive an Oakland A’s T-shirt, featuring No. 66 and “ROSS” emblazed across the back. Not sure how I missed that … wait, of course I know how I missed it: The National is just one enormous show of sports. Sadly, it’s next to impossible to see it all. I just try to every year. See you in Chicago.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.